Debate Rages in Minneapolis over Limiting Tenant Background Checks

By Michael Klazema on 7/30/2019

Should Minneapolis regulate the use of background checks for tenant screenings? That’s the question that the Minneapolis City Council is currently considering as debate rages among city landlords and would-be tenants.

Per a report from Minnesota Public Radio, the root of the issue is the tight housing market in the city. Limited housing supply in Minneapolis has driven up rental rates and drastically reduced the amount of affordable housing available in the city. The state of the housing market has made it more difficult for individuals with criminal histories to find landlords who are willing to rent to them.

To try to solve the problem, the City Council is considering ordinances that would limit some of the actions that landlords could take when screening, considering, or onboarding new tenants.

The ordinances would bar landlords from requiring security deposits greater than the value of one month’s rent. Regarding background checks, the ordinances would not bar landlords from vetting their tenants, but they would make it illegal for a landlord to deny a tenant for felony convictions that date back more than five years. MPR notes that “there would be exceptions for sex crimes and some other offenses.”

Supporters of the ordinances argue that Minneapolis landlords have unfairly high standards and that tenant screenings have made it impossible for many people to find housing around the city. They argue that an applicant with any marks on his or her record—whether criminal convictions, past evictions, or poor credit—cannot find a landlord willing to take them on as a tenant. The combination of a tight housing market and detailed tenant background checks has made things difficult for applicants who don’t look good on paper.

MPR interviewed one such tenant: Philip Holmes, a Vietnam veteran with convictions for financial fraud, domestic assault, and illegal possession of a firearm. While the man acknowledged his past mistakes, he noted that they were over a decade old and said he’s “not that guy anymore.”

Landlords are fighting back against the proposed regulatory changes. Amy Gonyea, the landlord who took a chance on Philip Holmes and accepted his tenant application, told MPR that landlords need to check criminal recordscredit, and eviction history as a way to keep their buildings safe for other tenants. Others have argued that landlords should be free to rent out their property how they see fit, and that the proposed regulations clash against landlord and property owner rights.

The Minnesota Multi-Housing Association, which is staunchly opposed to the ordinances, has suggested that the Minneapolis City Council should instead focus on supporting efforts to build new apartment buildings and other housing in the city. Increasing the supply of housing to meet growing demand could open new opportunities for tenants whose records or rental histories aren’t perfect.

City Council members have claimed that they are listening to both sides of the debate and will draft a final ordinance plan by this fall.



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